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Australia, U.N. pledge support for East Timor peace, security

DILI -- Australia's prime minister and the United Nations chief on Friday pledged continued support for East Timor to ensure peace and stability in the tiny nation.

East Timor invited in foreign security forces, including Australians, to restore order in the wake of last year's factional violence that killed 37 people and drove more than 100,000 from their homes.

East Timor's president, Jose Ramos-Horta, said he had told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in separate talks that he wanted Australian-led international troops to stay at least until the end of 2008 and the U.N. mission until 2011.

"We will review it along the way together with the United Nations," Ramos-Horta told reporters after meeting Rudd. "We should not repeat the mistakes of the past, a hasty withdrawal of the U.N. and our friends."

East Timor, one of the world's poorest nations, became independent in 2002 after a period of U.N. administration.

The former Portuguese colony voted to break away from 23 years of Indonesian rule in a violence-marred U.N. sponsored ballot in 1999.

Rudd, on a brief visit to East Timor after attending the U.N. climate change conference in Bali, suggested that Australian troops would stay as long as they were needed.

"From our point of view, as the Australian Government, we stand ready to assist our friends in Timor Leste with their continuing security needs," Rudd said after talks with Ramos-Horta.

The United Nations will decide in February whether to extend the mandate of UNMIT, its fifth mission to East Timor since 1999. UNMIT was established after last year's violence to promote stability, reconciliation, and democratic governance.

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